Playing over the Reds’ press carved their defence apart as our Premier League clash finished Spurs 4-1 Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.
A counter attack approach achieved a positive result for the second time in a week. Tottenham had just 36% possession, but created havoc with the ball. Playing over the top of the Liverpool press got the rout rolling to put stress on a fragile defence. The ensuing errors were punished with ruthless efficiency as the match ended Spurs 4-1 Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.
Playing over the press
Mauricio Pochettino has too often tried to force our natural game on Liverpool and come up short. Having failed to beat the Reds as Tottenham manager, Pochettino finally had a change of tactics. The 5-3-2 counter attack system that has been so successful this season against pressing teams, such as Dortmund and Real Madrid, got another airing.
The speed of Liverpool’s closing down and transitions are what every opponent fears. As a result, Spurs didn’t dwell on the ball. One and two touch football was the norm. What’s more, a hefty 20% of Spurs passes were long.
The aim was to often clear the lines with a quick searching ball forward. The defence didn’t hang around when the pressing traps were closing in. The objective was to firstly evade Liverpool’s gang of tacklers. Secondly, to hit Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min in space. This prevented turnovers high up in our half, but more importantly, quickly put pressure on a fragile defence, which is frequently left exposed.
The result was balls over the top of Liverpool’s initial press that caused their defence to buckle.
Trippier over the top
Four minutes were on the clock as Tottenham took the lead from the first ball over Liverpool’s crowd of tacklers.
Spurs had already evaded their initial press to win a throw-in midway in the Reds’ half of the field. Hugo Lloris had sent a long searching pass towards Kieran Trippier that had eluded the first pressing wave.
The mass of Red defenders in his way made it difficult for Trippier to get the throw-in to one of his team mates. On receiving the return, Trippier was faced with an army of Red bodies that had squeezed in to condense the playing area on that side.
A first time chipped pass from Trippier as he received the ball back from Son caught the Liverpool defence too high and off guard.
A domino effect of errors ensued. Dejan Lovren tried to play Harry Kane offside without realising what was behind him. Joel Matip was too slow to react. Simon Mignolet then flew out of his goal, making it easy for Kane to dink the ball past him and finish. Spurs 1-0 Liverpool and Wembley had the start it craved.
Lloris goes long
The quick goal was a perfect start. The counter attack game plan was thus made more effective with Liverpool now having to play from behind.
A second goal was quickly added with another pass over the top of Liverpool’s press. The quick thinking of Hugo Lloris to hurl the ball downfield towards Harry Kane immediately eliminated any chance to press. What’s more, it instantly caused anxiety in the Liverpool defence once again.
Dejan Lovren buckled under the pressure once more. His attempt to win the ball in the air was rash and completely miss-calculated. Harry Kane had already picked up the flight of the ball, knew Lovren would miss it and set off in to the space.
The benefit of a second forward in Pochettino’s 5-3-2 system now came in to play. Favouring Fernando Llorente’s hold up presence against Real Madrid, Son Heung-Min was in the line-up for his speed to attack the spaces Liverpool would leave. The South Korean gave James Milner a head start, but his blistering pace and sprint stamina meant that he easily won the race. Kane unselfishly squared. Son coolly kept his head to slot home the second. Spurs were ripping through Liverpool like a Lilywhite tidal wave.
Son’s runs in-behind
Spurs had taken a two-goal lead from twice going over the top of any Liverpool attempt to press the ball. A third almost followed as the plan continued to wreak havoc amongst Liverpool’s defence.
Son continued to be a constant menace to Liverpool’s shaky centre backs. His runs in-behind could’ve seen him score further goals. Minutes after making it Spurs 2-0 Liverpool, Son rattled the bar as he almost added a third. Christian Eriksen’s lofted pass over the top picked out his run superbly.
With a difficult bouncing ball, Son did incredibly well to keep his shot down. Two inches lower and the game could’ve been over inside 15 minutes.
Salah vs Serge
Liverpool’s one avenue of light was through the runs of Mohamed Salah. Mauricio Pochettino had positioned Serge Aurier to match-up foot speed with the lightning fast Egyptian, but our left back was having a tough time. Salah’s nippy runs and fleet feet gave Aurier issues.
Liverpool got back in the game from their usual game plan to press the ball and then quickly transition.
Harry Kane had gone against the grain by dribbling the ball out of defence. Tottenham had predominantly cleared long when closed down, but the striker had other ideas. Kane had done exceptionally well to evade three would be pressers. However, having done the hard part, he made the fatal mistake against Liverpool of dwelling on the ball. The net closed in on him and in trying to win a foul, turned possession over.
In the meantime, our defensive line had pushed up. The quick turnover suddenly caught us high and vulnerable to the quick pace of Salah. Jordan Henderson wasted no time in putting the ball in-behind our defence for his run.
Aurier and Vertonghen were beaten by the searing speed of the Egyptian. Hugo Lloris also feared his swiftness. Lloris is usually so rapid from his line to clear up, but strangely he didn’t back himself despite having a high starting position. Lloris retreated and Salah had the space he needed to tuck the ball in to the corner. Spurs 2-1 Liverpool and the party atmosphere was momentarily quelled.
The Dele Alli factor
Three goals from runs in-behind had seen the score at Spurs 2-1 Liverpool. In spite of a momentum shift, Spurs persisted with balls over or through Liverpool’s pressing.
Dele Alli became the key figure in the game. In a deeper midfield position, Dele started to pull the strings from his new role. Big chances ensued. Firstly, Dele played a sumptuous ball through several levels of Liverpool’s defence for Son Heung-Min’s run in behind the centre backs. Son, however, scuffed his shot as he tried to flick the ball with the outside of his right foot rather than use his left.
In the face of pressure from James Milner, Dele then lofted a rather more agricultural pass straight over the centre backs for Harry Kane’s run. Kane got much better contact than Son, but saw a recovering Dejan Lovren block his goal bound shot.
Set piece special
Dele Alli’s passing had seen him become a dangerous factor in the game. His defensive anticipation and powerful runs with the ball would see him heavily involved in our third goal.
Once more Spurs went long over Liverpool’s initial press. Kieran Trippier hurled an incredibly long throw up the line from the edge of our 18-yard box to get out of the congestion in the corner and move the ball up to halfway.
Liverpool won the initial duel, but as Emre Can received play, Dele Alli stripped him of possession and set off on the break. Can had no choice but to bring him down, conceding the free kick.
Forced to defend, Liverpool collapsed under the pressure once more. On the stroke of half time, Spurs hadn’t sent any centre backs up for the set piece, merely three attacking players. Liverpool set up to defend as if we had. The Reds also had a ludicrously high line to defend a central free kick.
Christian Eriksen dropped the ball over the top in to the oceans of space. Joel Matip went back and without a call from Simon Mignolet headed the ball up in the air. Dele Alli raced in and lashed it back in to the corner of the net. The goal was a huge blow. Tottenham rejuvenated, Liverpool visibly crushed.
Liverpool don’t learn their lesson
After the interval and the game was put to bed from another Spurs set piece. Misdirection was the Tottenham aim, but Liverpool errors were once more the talking point.
Tottenham had initially run a bunch of players towards the near post to draw the defence’s attention. The objective was to get Harry Kane a chance in the space behind them.
Kieran Trippier had put the cross in to the perfect area, but Simon Mignolet came and only wafted the ball away. Mignolet’s poor clearance landed straight at Jan Vertonghen’s feet. Vertonghen was positioned as the clean-up man for anything through the six-yard box. He immediately riffled in a shot that was blocked on the line by a diving Roberto Firmino.
Harry Kane, who the initial free kick had been set up for, had stood still the whole time. Suddenly he was in space to control and fire home to make it Spurs 4-1 Liverpool.
Kane wheeled away in celebration, Jan Vertonghen held his head. Vertonghen has come so close on many occasions now that a goal for one of the most attacking central defence men has to be imminent.
The game was virtually over, but Hugo Lloris pulled off a couple of top draw saves to stop any come back.
Spurs’ formation had set up to push Liverpool out wide to be a crossing team. The midfield diamond had positioned itself centrally and then shuttled across the pitch as the Reds were forced to the flanks.
The defensive effort of the players was enormous. At the extreme end we can see how focussed the team was in stifling the centre. All eleven players were narrow, within the width of the 18-yard box at times.
Liverpool were thus pushed wide and kept from their usual neat passing through the inside channels. However, Hugo Lloris still had to be called upon with two superb saves following crosses.
Lloris’ first to deny Philippe Coutinho after a cross in to the box found Mo Salah was exceptional. Lloris then thwarted Salah with his feet after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had found him from a pull back. Serge Aurier got caught on the ball, which saw Oxlade-Chamberlain pounce and cut it back across the box.
Lloris’ quick, cat-like reactions kept the score at Spurs 4-1 Liverpool and thwarted any chance of a come back.
Spurs 4-1 Liverpool overall
Mauricio Pochettino continues to surprise with his line-ups. Serge Aurier at left back was an initial curve ball when the team sheets were handed in. Son Heung-Min’s inclusion as the second striker at the top of the midfield diamond ran the Liverpool centre backs ragged.
Previous Premier League visitors to Wembley have dropped off and made themselves tough to break down. Liverpool played in to our hands by pressing high and leaving their vulnerable centre backs exposed. Swift passes over their press to put stress on their centre backs proved to be their undoing.
Final score: Spurs 4-1 Liverpool.
MOTM: Harry Kane.